Code of the treehopper

5 minutes

I was a child of Holocaust survivors

15 minutes

Multiverse

3 minutes

The mechanics of bird flight

3 minutes

Shepherd’s delight

8 minutes

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Coded vibrations and signal jamming – the secret language of the treehoppers

Treehoppers, a large family of insects found around the globe, live on plant branches, sucking nutrients from sap and frequently blending in with their surrounding to avoid the attention of predators. At first glance, the creatures appear rather boring as they stay relatively still and quiet much of the time, but scientists are learning that there’s much more to them than first meets the eye – or ear. By vibrating their torsos while grasping branches, treehoppers dispatch their own complex version of Morse code to warn of nearby predators, woo mates and even disrupt the signals of rivals. And treehoppers are hardly anomalous: tens of thousands of species of insects communicate using similar vibrations, meaning that there’s an entire universe of hidden animal communications we’re just beginning to understand. In this instalment of bioGraphic’s Invisible Nature series, the animator and filmmaker Flora Lichtman puts her inimitable style to evocative use, recreating the world of treehoppers with stunning tiny creations playfully animated.

Director: Flora Lichtman

Producer: Annette Heist

Websites: bioGraphic, Sweet Fern Productions

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When your parents survived Auschwitz, where do you fit into the family story?

‘You see, I have this problem: growing up in my parent’s house was not tragic. But their past was.’

Coming of age in Toronto during the 1960s, the Canadian writer and illustrator Bernice Eisenstein found herself ‘addicted’ to the Holocaust, consuming every film and book on the subject that she could. The tragedy largely defined the lives of her parents, Auschwitz internees who were moulded by both the enormity of their grief and the friendships they forged with fellow survivors. But to Eisenstein, who grew up in relative comfort, the Holocaust was at once omnipresent and alien – lore from a recent past she would never touch and could never fully understand, but one that informed her identity in inescapable ways. The animated film I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors (2010) adapts Eisenstein’s celebrated 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. Borrowing her distinctive visual style and wit, the short explores Eisenstein’s personal history with honesty and a bit of poignant humour to probe questions of secondhand trauma and the sometimes unbridgeable chasms between generations.

Director: Ann Marie Fleming

Producers: Gerry Flahive, Michael Fukushima

Narrator: Bernice Eisenstein

Website: National Film Board of Canada

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Time dilates and people flow in and out of each other in a hallucinatory urban commute

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

A commute is often judged good or bad by how long it takes, but sometimes getting from one place to another can yield wrinkles in our experience of time. The Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Kondo explores this phenomenon in his often breathtaking video Multiverse, layering time on itself to create a hallucinatory vision of countless scooterists flowing through Taiwan’s capital Taipei. The result is a vision of a city and its people that takes an ordered freneticism and manipulates it to create a sense of time speeding up and standing still. People are momentarily discernible as individuals before morphing into strange amalgams of humanity. As the piece progresses, the pace becomes increasingly dizzying, until finally the crowd melds into an amorphous blur of light and motion. For another surreal take on the urban world from Kondo, watch his video Eye Know (2014).

Director: Hiroshi Kondo

Music and Sound design: Himuro Yoshiteru

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Flight manifest: from take-off to landing, a bird’s eye introduction to flying

It seems to be a deeply human experience to catch sight of a bird on the wing and stand there entranced, whether by a hummingbird’s frenetic zipping lines, a hawk’s graceful curves or any of the countless other forms of avian flight. Created by the US animator Stephen Cunnane as a tool to demonstrate realistic bird movements to other animators, this breezy short renders winged flights using silhouettes, detailing the key manoeuvres of avian aerodynamics. If only this how-to manual allowed us to take to the air ourselves… For more from Cunnane, watch his companion animation Animal Gaits.

Video by Stephen Cunnane

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A horse walks into a pub: on the excruciating trauma of being told a joke

You’re at a party, perhaps finding your next drink, when someone you hardly know comes up and asks: ‘Hey, want to hear a good one?’ The real answer is almost always: ‘No, thank you,’ but as a polite guest, what choice do you really have? This excerpt from the film Shepherd’s Delight (1984) drops the viewer directly into this awkward scenario, with a quip about two racehorses talking shop in a bar. As the joke-teller eagerly addresses his audience, a wry running commentary breaks down the psychological minutiae of joke-telling, including the many emotions – from discomfort to sweet relief – experienced by the audience. Infused with a peculiar, subversive sense of humour, the UK filmmaker John Smith’s short is a mad meta-comedy – clever, a bit mean and discomfitingly relatable.

Director: John Smith

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Coded vibrations and signal jamming – the secret language of the treehoppers

Treehoppers, a large family of insects found around the globe, live on plant branches, sucking nutrients from sap and frequently blending in with their surrounding to avoid the attention of predators. At first glance, the creatures appear rather boring as they stay relatively still and quiet much of the time, but scientists are learning that there’s much more to them than first meets the eye – or ear. By vibrating their torsos while grasping branches, treehoppers dispatch their own complex version of Morse code to warn of nearby predators, woo mates and even disrupt the signals of rivals. And treehoppers are hardly anomalous: tens of thousands of species of insects communicate using similar vibrations, meaning that there’s an entire universe of hidden animal communications we’re just beginning to understand. In this instalment of bioGraphic’s Invisible Nature series, the animator and filmmaker Flora Lichtman puts her inimitable style to evocative use, recreating the world of treehoppers with stunning tiny creations playfully animated.

Director: Flora Lichtman

Producer: Annette Heist

Websites: bioGraphic, Sweet Fern Productions

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